If you’re thinking of upgrading your caravan with a new hot water system, you’ll need to know the different types that are available, their features, and their pros and cons. That’s why we’ve created this handy guide to help answer the key question: which caravan hot water system is best?
Types of hot water systems for caravans
There’s five common types of hot water systems for caravans, based on where they get their power: gas, electric, gas/electric combos, diesel, and portable. Each of these types have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s crucial to understand these before you take the plunge.
Here’s an overview of each type of hot water system, so you can decide which is right for you.
As you might expect, gas hot water systems are ideal if you’re an off-road adventurer who is happy exploring remote areas without campsites. Because the system runs on LPG or propane gas, you can have a shower or wash your dishes wherever you like, but you’ll also need to check your gas levels regularly and replace them when needed. Some systems are designed to use gas when you turn on the tap (tankless), and some use gas at regular intervals to keep the water heated in your storage tank. The former is obviously much more economical.
Gas hot water systems are extremely quiet, and because they work separately from the engine, you won’t need to have the caravan running. They are also relatively cheap systems to install, and cost about $2 per hour to run. You can expect to pay around $1,000 for a good quality gas heater.
Perhaps the biggest downside to gas heaters is that they must be installed by a licensed gas fitter. You’ll also need a 12V connection for gas hot water heaters to work, and because they can cause condensation, the fitter will need to run a vent outside.
Electric hot water systems need a power source to work, so you’ll only be able to heat your water when you’re parked in a campsite, or if you have a separate power source for it like a battery or solar panels. On the plus side, they heat water directly from the tap, so you don’t have to wait for it. This also makes them more water efficient because they only heat water when needed.
An electric hot water system uses about 12KWh per hour, which works out to roughly $2.40. They are also one of the cheapest types of hot water heaters for caravans, costing around $500 for a good quality model. However, if you’d like to have hot water without plugging into a grounded power source, you’ll need to consider installing solar panels, which makes the setup much more expensive.
If you’re handy, these systems can also be installed yourself without the help of a professional.
Gas / electric combo
Gas and electric combo heaters give you the best of both worlds. When you’re alongside some gorgeous remote lake in the middle of nowhere, you can use gas to heat your water. And when you’re comfortably settled in a powered campsite, you can hook up to the electricity and heat your water with that instead. This flexibility makes this type of system extremely appealing for people.
These combo units tend to cost about $850 for a good quality product, but because they have a gas component, they must be installed by a licensed gas fitter, which increases the cost.
These hot water systems use your caravan’s diesel tank to heat up the water. They’re extremely efficient compared to gas and electric, and provided you keep an eye on your fuel (as you definitely should if you’re trekking through the outback), you’ll always have a power source for the water heater. The heater also produces a clean, dry heat, and produces no humidity or condensation as a gas heater does.
Diesel heaters have an exhaust that runs through the floor of the vehicle, rather than a flue that goes through the wall. This gives you more flexibility in your installation and where the heater can be placed, which can be a big bonus for a tightly packed caravan.
Downsides to diesel heaters are their more expensive cost, and the noise they produce when running.
Portable hot water heaters are perfect if you don’t have the space for a shower in your caravan. They are a portable unit that you can hang wherever is suitable outside the caravan, and need to be connected to a gas supply, a 12V electricity supply, and a water source to work. As you would expect, there’s zero installation cost for these units, which makes them highly appealing for some.
Which caravan hot water system is best?
The best hot water system for your caravan will depend on your budget, where you are wanting to take your caravan, and the features that are important to you. If you’re wanting to take your caravan off road, and you don’t have access to a power source like a battery or solar panels, you’ll want a heater that runs on gas or diesel. But these can be expensive to buy and install, and they probably won’t provide you with instant hot water (although some systems do provide this).
Electric and portable units are considerably cheaper and don’t require the help of a professional to fit, but you’ll need a reliable power source to run them. On the plus side, they tend to be nice and quiet, and provide instant hot water without having to wait for it to warm up—perfect for chilly days.
Another important factor to consider is the water’s flow rate for each system. If you prefer a shower with a higher pressure, you’ll need to compare the rates for the systems that you’re looking at, as they will vary from product to product.
Finally, the other important thing to think about is where the unit will be installed in your specific caravan. As you’re aware, caravans are tight, well-designed spaces with everything in its proper space. So the hot water heater you choose has to work with your layout, ideally without you having to rip anything out or make too many changes. You’ll need to look at the physical size of the system, whether it requires venting, and where any connections/piping will need to run through your caravan. All of these factors are important when deciding on the hot water system that you choose.
Caravan hot water system comparison
|Gas||Electric||Gas / electric combo||Diesel||Portable|
|Instant hot water||❌||✔||✔||❌||✔|
|No power source needed||✔||❌||✔||✔||❌|
|Can be installed by anyone||❌||✔||❌||❌||✔|
|Rough energy cost||$2 p/hr||$2.40 p/hr||$2 p/hr||$1 p/hr||$2 p/hr|
|Rough unit cost||$1,000||$500||$850||$1500||$250|